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Volume 21

What Anxiety Is

What does anxiety feel like on a physical level? For some it might mean having palpitations, sweating or a throbbing headache. For others, it might involve heartburn or the urgent need to visit the bathroom.

What starts out as a thought, triggers a physical response which then causes other thoughts to escalate. This is different from generalized anxiety disorder (excessive worry about everyday events without obvious reasons for such worry) or a panic attack. If you have such chronic problems, you should seek professional help. Not everyone who is anxious is fearful.

Some people might be irritable and prone to snapping at others whenever anxiety hits them. Some mask the anxiety  completely by numbing themselves with their addiction of choice, e.g. food, alcohol and drugs. That isn’t a healthy way to handle it.

Growth Anxiety – How Children & Adults Differ

As children, we deal with change and growth quite often, generally associated with milestones in life. Change is exciting but it can also be a source of anxiety. But for the most part, we accept these changes as though it’s a normal part of life. We’re willing to try, even more so when we’re encouraged.

However, it’s easy to get complacent being an adult; as having been “elevated” to that status seems to grant us the privilege of living life on our terms. What are those terms anyway? Are the choices we make based on fear? Are we making choices with our best self in mind? There are ways around situations or scenarios that trigger anxiety, and no one else would be the wiser.

Dealing With Your Anxiety

Anxiety doesn’t go away just because you have built a comfortable cocoon around yourself to buffer against facing your fears. The anxiety gets projected onto various aspects of your life, making you think of worst-case scenarios and catastrophizing things that may not have bothered you as much before.

The way around it is to sit with the emotion and accept it for what it is. Realize that it’s separate and not part of the problem. Being mindful of your thoughts helps the anxiety from escalating.

Accepting the anxiety does not mean you do not do anything about it. What it means is that you do not make it part of the present problem. Separate the physical sensations of the anxiety from your mental response to them. “Okay, this feels uncomfortable but, it is just my body’s response to a stressor.” Then take a few deep breaths, breathing out the anxiety on the exhale.

Simultaneously, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Anything better than what you feel at that point is a bonus. Now rationalize the things you could do to solve your problem. For example, if you are afraid of public-speaking, you may want to prepare yourself thoroughly so that your speech becomes second nature.

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Important Lessons About Anxiety

  1. It’s all right to have fears/ anxieties.

    Once you admit that to yourself, you can take the next step to overcome them. No need for false pride to get in your way.

  2. How we handle those fears/ anxieties matters.

    Preparedness is always helpful. For example, when I need to drive through city traffic for an important appointment, I leave early, make sure my phone is fully charged and my car has a full tank of petrol.

  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    Courage is being brave, despite your fears. Facing your fears is the only way out of living a boxed in, limited life. Do the thing that makes you scared. No excuses or justifications. It’s the only way to grow.

Being A Role Model To Your Children

If you’re a parent, your children should see you dealing in a positive manner with things that make you anxious. Regardless of the advice you give them, your example is your children’s best teacher in facing life head-on with resilience and positivity. Actions speak louder than words and children are constantly watching and learning from the behaviors that you model.

It’s alright to let your children know that you’re a vulnerable human being with your own fears and anxieties, just like them. We don’t become perfect once we become adults. I’m not talking about over-sharing adult problems with your children. But do let your children know when something makes you fearful and let them see you facing your fear and dealing with it instead of cowering.

This may not seem like a big deal to some people but driving into the city makes me anxious as I’m not familiar with the roads. A wrong turn could mean being stuck in traffic or taking a long detour. It so happened that recently I had to take my kids for an event in the city and I had no choice but to drive them there.

So, what did I do? I used the GPS (which multiplied my confidence level) and left with plenty of time to spare. My kids know that driving to unfamiliar places gives me high anxiety; and gave me the biggest cheer when we arrived at the destination –  with plenty of time to spare!

Do reflect on this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt as you embark on being a role model to your children.

“We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”

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Dr. Reshma Stanislaus is a medical doctor (general practitioner) and an alumni of AIMST University. She also holds degrees in Psychology and English from the University of Manitoba. Her interests are preventive and functional medicine, nutrition i.e. the role of diet in disease prevention/ cure, psychology and parenting-related topics. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and outdoor activities with her family. She’s the mother of Nikhil, Mishka and Ishaan. Touch base with her at